Watching briefs are one of the most common types of fieldwork we undertake at Armour Heritage, and we thought it was about time we provided a more comprehensive introduction to them! In our experience, the archaeological watching brief usually forms the final part of historic environment led work required on a site, often following on from a desk-based assessment, evaluation trenching or excavation, and is most commonly applied as a condition of planning consent. As a result, our clients range from those that have never dealt with archaeology before, to those who have probably dealt with it, in their opinion, far too much! Either way, at Armour Heritage our consultancy team and fieldwork services are designed to make the process a whole lot easier for all concerned.
The watching brief can often be the only form of fieldwork required by the local planning authority, used as a ‘catch all’ approach in areas where the archaeological potential is considered to be low, or the development small, although in some instances it can form part of a wider programme of archaeological mitigation on large scale development sites. Whatever the approach, one of our first roles at AH is usually to confirm the nature of the works required with the LPA, ensuring all archaeological work carried out is absolutely necessary and appropriate both in terms of the scope of works required and timing.
The majority of our watching briefs are on smaller developments, or on sites where access for other forms of fieldwork is hampered by existing site constraints – we have found that trees, buildings and pesky badgers have all trumped archaeology in recent months! In those cases, through our considered negotiations with local planning authorities, we have been able to defer the fieldwork (and the associated costs) to post-determination. On any given watching brief, we will usually deploy a single archaeologist to work closely with the groundworkers on site to monitor the initial stages of their excavations, be it foundation trenches, services, drainage or enabling works to record archaeological remains that may survive within the site. We oversee the archaeologist(s) to ensure the time spent on site is limited to that which is absolutely necessary to prevent uncontrolled drawn-out monitoring, and ensure archaeology does not impede the general progress of the construction works.
As part of our broader historic environment services at Armour Heritage, we will commission the archaeologist to complete the work through our network of trusted, usually locally-based contractors, to ensure our clients are provided with an experienced operative at a highly competitive rate. When the archaeological fieldwork is complete, the developer is free to complete their building programme whilst AH ensures the final stages of reporting are completed, enabling the archaeological condition(s) to be formally signed off. The processes we adopt at AH in terms of planning conditions are designed to allow our clients to move forward generally unhindered by any archaeological presence at their site, whilst at the same time retrieving and recording any archaeological component within the development – a win-win situation we feel for client and historic environment alike.